Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/July 1896/Editor's Table
THE time is at hand for the annual migration from the city to the country or the seaside of all whose means enable them to allow themselves that pleasure. There is doubtless something more than fashion in the movement, for fashion is arbitrary and changeful, while the habit we speak of has been steadily growing in generality for the last half century or more. If we seek for the philosophy of it we may reasonably regard it as the expression of a periodical craving of human beings for closer contact with Nature than the conditions of city life permit. The works of man, the monuments of civilization, in the end oppress us, and we turn for refreshment and expansion to the wider landscapes, the purer air, the freer life of regions as yet comparatively untamed. This is the most satisfactory view to take of the matter, and happily it is one of wide application. With many, however, there is no desire for an escape from the conventionalities of life, and no hunger for a reposeful contemplation of the beauties and grandeurs of Nature. The excitements of society may jade but do not satiate them, and, in their flight from the city to the seaside or mountain resort or to foreign lands, what they seek is still the excitement of society in new forms and under new conditions. With such we have no concern; no words of ours would be likely to reach the circles in which they move, nor, if they did, would they be in the least likely to secure a moment's attention.
Much benefit, in our opinion, is to be had from summer holidays if rightly used, and it can not but be a matter of regret to every sympathetic man and woman that so large a body of social toilers should be condemned to year-long imprisonment in the cities, varied only by such brief excursions to outlying points as the present improved conditions of local transit may place within their reach. The maximum of benefit from a holiday comes only to one who has earned it by faithful work. If, with mind and heart free, such a one can allow himself a few weeks' residence in some healthful spot where the face of Nature is beautiful with field and forest, with hillside and running water, he is a man to be envied. It is not inactivity of mind or body that a healthy man will desire on such occasions—inactivity is only for the exhausted—it is new occupation for mind and body combined with a delightful sense of not being in a hurry. The wise man cast amid natural scenery and conditions will seek in some way to enlarge his knowledge of and sympathy with Nature, not in the spirit of scientific research, but rather in that of loving contemplation. It is a time for increasing one's familiarity with natural objects, for learning a little more by direct observation of leaf and tree, of bird and insect, of cloud and mountain, for becoming more sensitive to forms of beauty and the changing harmonies of the visible world, for the unsealing of the eyes and the unstopping of the ears and the enlargement of the heart. From such intercourse with Nature, coupled with wholesome modes of life, there can not fail to flow much, benefit, mental, moral, and physical. The mind gains in elasticity and apprehensiveness, the spirit in serenity, the body in tone and vigor, and summer holidays so spent are likely to prove the most fruitful part of the whole year.
It is the custom with some when they leave the city to lay in a stock of summer reading consisting chiefly of the "lightest" novels. This simply means that they still crave excitement, and must find it in ever-renewed pictures, however lazily gazed at, of the life of society—the life they have (in theory) left behind them. It seems to us that the books to take to the country, if we take any, are not new ones but old ones—those we have read before, but which still have their message and their charm, classics whose beauties we have not exhausted, and perhaps are not likely to exhaust, which recall old associations and help us to calmer and broader views of life. We lay down no rule for others; we merely suggest that there is more rest for the mind and spirit in going over old paths than in. striking into new ones. The new writers give us the last refinements and developments of thought, the latest paradoxes, and all that is up to date in style and expression; the old ones are better interpreters of primal Nature, and of what is broad and fundamental in humanity. In these pauses of life we should try to take to heart the lesson that Wordsworth teaches in his celebrated sonnet:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
and which a later poet echoes when he exclaims:
The will to neither strive nor cry.
The power to feel with others give;
Calm, calm me more, nor let me die
Before I have begun to live!
The Roman satirist Persius gives this pithy advice: "Dwell with yourself, and find out how little you really require." In our holidays it would be well, instead of pampering ourselves, to try to reduce life to its simplest, or at least to comparatively simple, elements. Thus can we best renew and rejuvenate our spirits, and bring ourselves to feel how little the joy of life depends upon the luxuries and artificialities of advanced civilization. These are old ideas and have been much better expressed by many writers of note; but we are all apt to forget the good counsels we receive, and a timely reminder can do no harm. Particularly in a civilization so restless as ours and so avid of novelty, is a period of rest far from the hurry and turmoil of the city a matter of necessity. Otherwise what do we tend to become?—mere creatures of the moment, rushing from task to task or from amusement to amusement, hurriedly scanning the headlines of our papers or the illustrations of our magazines, constantly absorbed in the actualities and trivialities of life, and constantly tending toward a soulless materialism in thought and sentiment. If our civilization, however, is to count for anything serious in the great chain of human history, we must get more soul into it—we must strive to rise above the routine and mere mechanics of existence. We must find out and take the truth home to our hearts, that life is something more than meat, that the body is of more dignity than its raiment, and that the soul of man is destined for other and higher uses than simply to reflect the shows of the passing moment. Let us in our holidays, if we are so fortunate as to have any, try to baptize ourselves anew in the fresh fountains of natural beauty which almost every countryside affords, let us attune ourselves to the harmonies of Nature, let us get sight of our own souls, "our true deep-buried selves, being one with which," as one whom we all know has finely said, "we are one with the whole world."
Mr. Herbert Spencer is not one of those philosophers who think it a duty to hold severely and loftily aloof from practical and everyday questions. He is keenly interested in the daily life of the people in the widest sense of the word; and we may attribute to that fact the zeal he has recently displayed in connection with the proposition to make a radical change in the system of weights and measures now and for many generations established in England. Since we last referred to this subject Mr. Spencer has addressed two further communications to the London Times in relation thereto. The second of these we quote entire, as being a brief yet comprehensive statement, from the writer's standpoint, of the whole question.
To the Editor of the Times.
Sir: Arguments and expressions of opinion may be continued without end. Against those of Lord Kelvey and Dr. Stoney 1 will simply set some facts already stated, joined with one other.
1. Always mankind had the decimal system at their finger ends and used it for counting. In the course of civilization they departed from it in their systems of weights, measures, and values; gradually adopting instead sets of easy aliquot divisions, and especially duodecimal divisions.
2. For half a century after the metric system had been legally established the French did not discover its convenience. The alleged discovery of its convenience went along with the discovery that they would be punished if they did not use it.
3. In the United States, where the decimal division of money is used, it has been departed from in the center of most active business, the Stock Exchange, and a system of easy aliquot divisions employed in its place.
4. The additional fact not yet named is sufficiently striking. The ancient wise men of the East and the modern workingmen of the West have agreed upon the importance of great divisibility in numerical groups. The Chaldean priests, to whom we owe so much, doubtless swayed in part by their astronomical arrangements, adopted the sexagesimal system of numeration, which at the same time facilitates in a special manner the division into aliquot parts. For 60 may be divided by ten different numbers—2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30. From this significant fact turn now to the fact presented in our ordinary foot rule. Each of its 12 inches is halved and rehalved, giving halves, quarters, and eighths. And then if we consider the subdivided foot as a whole, it gives us ten sets of aliquot parts. Beyond its 12ths the divisions yield 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, (11), 1 (3), 1, (1 inch), 1, (3 inch), and 1, (1 inch). And this ordinary mode of dividing the foot rule results from the experience of centuries; for builders, carpentera, and mechanics, always buying foot rules which best serve their needs, have gradually established the mo.st useful set of divisions. Yet now, though the early men of science and the modern men of practice are at one in recognizing the importance of great divisibility, it is proposed to establish a form of measure characterized by relative indivisibility.I am, etc.
We must say that the arguments adduced by Mr. Spencer appear to us of much weight. On the whole, it would seem more probable that an approximately perfect system of weights and measures should be evolved in the course of age-long practice, than that it spring fully developed from the brain of any savant or body of savants. Weighing and measuring make up and have always made up, in one form or another, a considerable portion of the business of every day; and men naturally take to those modes of measurement and calculation which offer the greatest facilities for the work to be done. Their minds have naturally moved in the lines of least resistance, and the methods sanctioned by the history of the race express this mental tendency. It is therefore greatly to be desired that no change may be made either in England or in this country looking to a disuse of old established and popular methods without a very thorough and earnest consideration of the effects likely to be produced on the life of the people. The savants can follow what methods they find most suitable for the very exact researches and determinations which they are called upon to make; but they should be very careful how they call upon the people to abandon methods and instruments which for everyday purposes answer all their needs, while affording aids to their mental operations which it is extremely doubtful whether the arbitrary system it is sought to introduce can ever supply.
We publish elsewhere a letter by Mr. L. G. Bostedo, Corresponding Secretary of the Chicago Single-Tax Club, commenting on a brief article published in these columns last month under the title of "Necessity." The writer evidently thinks that to talk as we did of making "sound individuals" without postulating, as a necessary condition thereto, the general adoption of current theories in regard to the nationalization of the land, is useless. We are not, however, quite of his opinion on this point. We are not sure that there would be a larger proportion of sound individuals if the land were nationalized than there is at present. It is easy to say that an era of general prosperity and well-being would set in if these theories prevailed; but the thesis has never been proved, and the world is by no means persuaded that it is true. Fifteen years ago the doctrine excited much more interest than it does today, and was fervently believed in by many who now have either abandoned it altogether, or else have come to attach only a secondary importance to it. Mr. Bostedo believes that there is a "conspiracy of silence" on the subject in the press. If there is, we are not aware of it; we have certainly never joined the conspiracy. What seems to us to be the case is that the public has got tired of a question which was very widely discussed some years ago, but without any very satisfactory result. Our correspondent speaks of this journal as "conservative." We trust we are conservative in a right sense, and liberal in a right sense also. We believe that the principles on which human well-being mainly depends are very old; but we desire at the same time to see the latest results of human thought applied to the improvement of the general condition of mankind. The question whether land should be individually appropriated is manifestly one into which we can not enter to-day; moreover, it is not one which is likely to be settled to every one's satisfaction at any early date. Meantime we think it right to point out, as we did in the article under consideration, that character and general fitness for the work of the world have much, if not everything, to do with happiness and success in life. We all know "sound individuals" when we see them; and we know that they spring from almost every condition of life. A very sound individual, who had endured considerable hardships in his youth, became President of this nation some thirty-five years ago. We want more of that kind, and we should not wait to get the land laws fixed or unfixed before doing what may presently be in our power toward increasing their number through such agencies as education, free and temperate discussion, and righteous government.
One thing pleases us in Mr. Bostedo's letter, and that is his declaration that he does not, like very many of the advocates of the single tax, mix up with his arguments "a great deal of religious dogma and superstition and crude notions of natural rights, etc." Perhaps the large extent to which single-tax writers have resorted to just such faulty modes of. reasoning in the past has something to do with the alleged "conspiracy of silence." That kind of thing has a very silencing effect on people who wish to keep their wits clear and their tempers sweet.